How to Clean Car Seats (Leather, Cloth/Fabric and Drying)

by Joshua Thomas

Dirty car seats can be repulsive, but if you are a frequent vehicle user and always have passengers in the car, and this is more so kids, it is something that you will have to deal with at some point.

Because dirty seats do not affect the performance of the vehicle, it is easy for some motorists to overlook the need to clean them especially if the dirt is not very evident.

But, if you want to keep your vehicle looking its best and maintain its value, you need to keep the seats clean.

Here we show you how to clean both leather and fabric car seats, and also provide some helpful tips to help you keep them clean and prevent staining.

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

How to Clean Leather Car Seats
How to Clean Leather Car Seats

Leather seats give vehicles an up class and trendy look, which helps to boost their value significantly.

But, while leather seats tend to be great at repelling dirt and grime, they are also more prone to abrasions and are still quite delicate, which means cleaning them requires extra keenness. With that said, cleaning leather seats will not take a lot of effort.

What You Need


Step 1: Check the Manufacturer Instructions

If you have one of those expensive luxury cars, the manufacturer will always provide instructions for everything in the manual including cleaning the car seats. Hence, before you even start cleaning your seats, you need to check them to ensure you do things the right way.

Also, there are different kinds of leather used to make car seats, and each type will require different attention when it comes to cleaning. And so even with regular cars, you need to check the manual or do a little research to determine the kind of leather used on your vehicle and hence how to clean it.

Step 2: Inspect Seat for Holes

Because you will be doing a deep and thorough cleanup of the seat, the next step before you start doing the actual cleaning is to inspect the seats to check for holes.

Inspecting the seats ensures that you do not end up getting liquid to the foam inside through holes and tears as the liquid can damage the foam and ruin your car seat permanently.

Step 3: Remove Surface Debris

The next step is to remove the larger surface debris, which is the more visible dirt and perhaps the most annoying and also what gives you an indication that you need to clean your seats.

Here, you will need a car vacuum, and you simply need to vacuum the seats thoroughly to pull out all the debris. In case you do not have a vacuum lying around, you can also brush out the debris with a soft bristle brush but it might not be as useful as a vacuum for this step.

As you are vacuuming the seats, you need to pay special attention to the seams since this is where most of the debris will usually gather. Also, as you vacuum the delicate leather seats, you need to be careful to ensure you do not scratch them, and if possible avoid plastic vacuum nozzles.

Step 4: Wipe Down Seat

Using a microfiber towel, you should now wipe down your leather car seat to get rid of any surface dirt or obvious signs of dirt.

Many people will often stop the leather car seat cleaning process at this step because the seat will look clean after the wipe down, but the job is still not done.

Step 5: Apply Cleaner and Scrub

With the seat wiped down, you can now get to the deep cleaning part, which is where you will do the deep cleaning to get rid of all dirt in the seat and give the leather a sparkling finish.

For this step, you will need to first apply or spray the leather cleaner, leather soap or saddle soap and then scrub gently with the soft bristle brush.

And in case you do not have the leather cleaning agents, you can also make a simple DIY one at home by mixing 2 parts of linseed oil with 1 part of white vinegar.

Step 6: Condition the Leather

Scrubbing the leather seat when cleaning will dry it out, and hence to ensure that the material maintains a pleasant look, you need to add back these natural oils.

For this, you will need a good leather conditioner, and the right one for you is largely dependent on the particular leather type you are dealing with. If you are not sure how what you buy will work, you should first try it out in a small spot.

Step 7: Dry and Buff

The last step will be to dry the leather seat using a microfiber towel and then finish by buffing to give the leather a nice, glossy finish. And to ensure optimal drying, you should leave your car parked in a shady place for around 12 hours.

Once the leather seats are dry enough, you can now buff them up, and here you will need a microfiber cloth, and you should use it in is circular motions to ensure the best result. And if there is any excess leather conditioner, you should wipe it off and the job is done.

Note: Some vehicles will come with perforated leather seats, and to make sure you clean them effectively, you need to use much less fluid than you would use when cleaning non-perforated leather seats.

How to Clean Cloth/Fabric Car Seats

How To Clean Cloth/Fabric Car Seats
How To Clean Cloth/Fabric Car Seats

Given that fabric tends to be significantly cheaper than leather, it is the more commonly used material for making car seats. Hence, this is what you are likely to have in your vehicle, and so it is important to understand how to clean it. But, it is an even easier process than leather.

What You Need


Step 1: Vacuum Large Debris and Crumbs

Just like when cleaning the leather seat, you need to first vacuum the larger debris and crumbs from your fabric seats before you get to the deep cleaning section.

A vacuum will be very useful here as it will suck up debris even in the hard to reach places. But, if you are a pet owner, you might first need to use a pet brush to get rid of the pet hair before you start vacuuming.

Step 2: Spray Upholstery Cleaner

Once you get rid of all the large debris, the next step is to spray the upholstery cleaner in one part of the seat at a time or following the included manufacturer instructions that it will come with.

Make the fabric damp enough, but you have to be keen so as not to apply too much cleaner as this will create a mess and some of it can sip into the inner foam and ruin it. Also, use the soft bristle brush to agitate the cleaner into the fabric.

Step 3: Leave Cleaner to Work and Wipe It

Depending on the upholstery cleaner that you are using, some will require you to let them sit for a few minutes to work while others will not require anytime.

But once the cleaner does the job, the next step is to wipe it with the lean microfiber cloth. You should also remember to wipe any suds as they appear to ensure the fabric does not dry with the suds.

Step 4: Vacuum Fabric Again

The last step when cleaning fabric seats will be to vacuum them again as this will reduce the drying time greatly. But, if you are not in a hurry, this step might not be important to you. All in all, it is still vital to make sure you give the fabric enough time to dry before you can drive the vehicle.

Note: A mild weather will be perfect for cleaning your fabric seats as they will dry much faster than in cold weather.

Drying Car Seats

Besides getting the car seats clean enough, you also need to think about drying them, and this is regardless of whether they are fabric or leather.

Because for both seat types, it is recommended to allow them to dry naturally, it is a wise idea to plan to clean them at a time that you will not want to use your vehicle and when the weather allows.

A warm summer day makes the best time to clean car seats as they will dry fast and your vehicle should be ready to use in just a few hours.

Handy Tips for Stain Prevention and Keeping Car Seats Clean

  • Condition your leather car seats often to keep them clean and to prevent drying out which can lead to cracking.
  • Use slipcover or pet seat when carrying pets to keep pet hair off the seats.
  • Clean up any spill immediately to ensure it does not set in the seat.
  • Add some seat covers or slipmats to your seats as they are easy to remove and clean.

Conclusion for Car Seat Buyers

No matter how keen you are with caring for your vehicle, certain things are almost inevitable such as dirty seats. And if you have kids or pets, then you will end up having to clean your car seats more frequently than you think.

But, the good news is that cleaning car seats whether they are leather or fabric is quite easy if you know how to do it and should also not take up much of your time.

With a vacuum, leather or fabric cleaner some microfiber towels and a few minutes to spare on a warm day, you should be able to give your seat a thorough cleanup. And lastly, also remember to take measures to prevent stains and keep them clean for longer such as using car seat covers and also take care of any spills immediately they happen to prevent staining.


  1. How to Clean Car Seats - Carbuyer

About Joshua Thomas

Joshua Thomas just simply loves cars and willing to work on them whenever there's chance... sometimes for free.

He started CarCareTotal back in 2017 from the advices of total strangers who witnessed his amazing skills in car repairs here and there.

His goal with this creation is to help car owners better learn how to maintain and repair their cars; as such, the site would cover alot of areas: troubleshooting, product recommendations, tips & tricks.

Joshua received Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University.

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